THE confrontationalist vs. accommodationalist debate being waged by the rational side of “The Controversy” over evolution and creationism seems to be continuing. Our last post about this was here: The Debate About The Debate, in which we said:
We all know there’s no scientific debate about the broad acceptance earned by the theory of evolution. … The creationists offer lies and confusion, but nothing of substance, so there is never any reason to engage them on issues like evidence or logic — they have neither.
The Curmudgeon stands by his policy of indifference. Actually, it’s a watchful and armed indifference, because sometimes the crazies get out of hand.
In the Guardian, a British daily newspaper of which Labour Party voters are perhaps 80% of the readers, we read Science and religion need a truce. The article is subtitled: “Atheists are attacking the idea that science and faith can be compatible, but confrontation won’t spread the truth of evolution.” Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
This fall, evolutionary biologist and bestselling author Richard Dawkins – most recently famous for his public exhortation to atheism, The God Delusion – returns to writing about science. Dawkins’s new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, will inform and regale us with the stunning “evidence for evolution” … But it’s also fair to ask: Who in the United States will read Dawkins’s new book (or ones like it) and have any sort of epiphany, or change his or her mind?
Surely not those who need it most: America’s anti-evolutionists. These religious adherents often view science itself as an assault on their faith and doggedly refuse to accept evolution because they fear it so utterly denies God that it will lead them, and their children, straight into a world of moral depravity and meaninglessness. An in-your-face atheist touting evolution, like Dawkins, is probably the last messenger they’ll heed.
Precisely! Let’s read on:
Dawkins will, however, be championed by many scientists, especially the most secular – those who were galvanised by [Dawkins' earlier book] The God Delusion and inspired by it to take a newly confrontational approach toward America’s religious majority.
It often appears as though Dawkins and his followers – often dubbed the New Atheists, though some object to the term – want to change the country’s science community in a lasting way. They’d have scientists and defenders of reason be far more confrontational and blunt: No more coddling the faithful, no tolerating nonscientific beliefs. Scientific institutions, in their view, ought to stop putting out politic PR about science and religion being compatible.
That’s a good summary of the “confrontationalist” position. On the other hand:
More moderate scientists, however – let us call them the accommodationists – still dominate the hallowed institutions of American science. Personally, these scientists may be atheists, agnostics or believers. Whatever their views on the relationship between science and religion, politically, spiritually and practically they see no need to fight over it.
Thus the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences take the stance that science and religion can be perfectly compatible – and are regularly blasted for it by the New Atheists.
A smaller but highly regarded nonprofit organisation called the National Centre for Science Education [NCSE] has drawn at least as much of the New Atheists’ ire, however.
In this endeavour, it [the NCSE] has, of necessity, made frequent alliances with religious believers who also support the teaching of evolution, seeking to forge a broad coalition capable of beating back the advances of fundamentalists who want to weaken textbooks or science standards. In the famous 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania, evolution trial, for instance, the NCSE contributed scientific advice to a legal team that put a theologian and a Catholic biologist on the stand.
Yes, and that tactic was entirely successful. It’s doubtful — at least to us — that the case would have gone nearly so well if all the plaintiffs’ witnesses had been strident atheists. We continue:
In this context, the New Atheists have chosen their course: confrontation. And groups like the NCSE have chosen the opposite route: Work with all who support the teaching of evolution regardless of their beliefs, and attempt to sway those who are uncertain but perhaps convincible.
Having described what we call “the debate about the debate,” the Guardian concludes their article on a most interesting note:
Despite the resultant bitterness, however, there is at least one figure both sides respect – the man who started it all: Charles Darwin. What would he have done in this situation?
It turns out that late in life, when an atheist author asked permission to dedicate a book to Darwin, the great scientist wrote back his apologies and declined. For as Darwin put it:
[Quoting Darwin:] Though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.
We found a source for that quote here: Letter 12757 — Darwin, C. R. to Aveling, E. B., 13 Oct 1880, and it’s also mentioned here, in Wikipedia.
This is how the Guardian article ends:
Darwin and Dawkins differ by much more than a few letters, then – something the New Atheists ought to deeply consider.
What can we add to this? We can’t resolve the debate, but we can mention a few points that ought to be agreeable to all, but which undoubtedly won’t be:
1. There’s no scientific debate over the validity of the theory of evolution, the age of the earth, etc. When all the scientific objections have been swept away, as they were during and shortly after Darwin’s lifetime (for example: The Age of the Sun), and as each new line of evidence is explored — genetics, molecular biology, radiometric dating, plate tectonics, etc. — and as these independent lines of evidence turn out to be consistent with evolution, there is no rational basis for rejection of the theory. (We know you all agree with this.)
2. Clearly, regardless of what the creationists say, evolution-denial is entirely religious. The confrontationalists have correctly identified the root cause of the problem — but have they adopted the proper remedy? We don’t think so.
3. The followers of science-denying sects are free to believe and preach as they like; however government schools must be uncompromising in teaching science and making no concessions to those who want their religious doctrines included in the curriculum. The debate here should be kept strictly on scientific and constitutional grounds, where our case is virtually invulnerable. There is nothing to be gained by challenging anyone’s faith; to the contrary, there is much to lose that way.
4. Those who openly reject evolution and related scientific theories because of their religious beliefs are often honest in doing so (notwithstanding their woeful confusion about science). This much should be recognized, even as we simultaneously insist that there be no state support for the contents of their creed. Such people will never accommodate their beliefs to science, but they shouldn’t be made to do so. Each side can agree to leave the other alone. Religious people who accept the situation can be regarded as “honest creationists,” and we see no need to harass them. Indeed, it’s rather outrageous to do so.
5. The only cause for confrontation with openly religious creationists is if some choose a malevolent course and seek to impose some kind of theocratic control over science education and the conduct of science itself. They are aggressors, and there is no room for compromise here. In our final point we’ll discuss what form the confrontation should take.
6. Evolution-deniers who also deny that their position is religious are actually engaged in a form of double denial. Such people are worthy only of contempt, both from science-minded people and also from those who are openly religious in their science-denial. There can be no compromise here either. The double deniers are, in truth, the enemies of all.
7. So there is certainly room for confrontation — of a sort. But we see no reason to confront those who practice their religion and leave the secular world to go its own way. There are three reasons for this: (a) they won’t abandon their religious beliefs anyway; (b) they have committed no aggression; and (c) such confrontation tends to antagonize the majority of religious people who don’t share the theocratic goals of aggressive creationists, but who may feel obliged to support them — a counter-productive result indeed.
8. As for the would-be theocrats, their malevolent designs must be thwarted; but we still see no reason to confront them regarding their religious beliefs. You won’t change their minds. It’s not their beliefs we should be worried about, it’s their actions. This is purely a political struggle. You won’t score any points attacking religion, but you’ll have a lot of allies by framing the confrontation in terms of constitutionally resisting theocracy.
Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.